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Working Across Time Zones: Best Practices and Tools

How do you address the challenge of different time zones in the remote work setting?

Working across time zones might be difficult for teams working in the same room or state—however, more people than ever before desire to work these days remotely. Therefore, team members working across borders and time zones may become the norm soon.

After all, having employees working across time zones is the equivalent of offering your organization a 24-hour workplace — with the top talent on the planet. Without the need for overtime or late-night shifts, teams can collaborate to fulfill deadlines. Employees in the one-time zone can hand over half-finished projects to peers in another time zone to finish.

In other words, you can get more done without losing quality. But only if you work together and communicate well. So, in today's blog, let me walk you through the best practices and working remotely tips and tools for companies having employees from different work time zones.

Best practices for working remotely in a different time zone

Whether you're a remote company with a centralized HQ and time zone or a totally distributed organization without any of them, follow these best practices while working across time zones:

1. Determine everyone's preferred work hours and time zone

When working with teams in different time zones, the most important thing to remember is to be mindful, empathic, and courteous.

No one should feel compelled to be alert when working across time zones constantly. Employees who do not establish clear work boundaries risk burning out, which negatively impacts the entire team's productivity, creativity, and collaboration.

To establish a good work-life balance for all team members, follow these steps:

  • Employees should be encouraged to communicate their preferred working hours. Working from home has its advantages: the flexibility to decide your work schedule.
  • Early risers, late-night owls, and employees fall somewhere between while working across time zones. You may also have team members who choose to work split shifts, in which they work part of the morning, take time off to run errands or pick up their children from school, and then return to work later in the evening.
  • Whatever they decide, it's critical to respect everyone's preferred work hours, do not disturb hours, and be aware of when they occur in their time zone. Share these with the team so that everyone knows when it is acceptable to do work.
  • It's impossible to maintain track of everyone's local time zone continuously. You'll most likely have a mix of home-based employees and digital nomads that go to a new location every three months. Thankfully, Slack, a messaging tool, is on your side. In Slack, change your timezone.
  • Your employees can message each other by clicking "View Profile" to see what time it is in their recipient's location.
  • Use auto-responders, such as Slack status updates or out-of-office emails. These can be used to let staff know when they can expect a response during off-hours, peak work periods, or vacations.
  • Use a shared Google calendar (or something similar) to keep track of when staff in different countries are on vacation. While working across time zones, allow everyone to list their vacation and off days here so that collaborative sessions may be planned more easily while still honoring local conventions.
  • Always maintain a discussion regarding work-life balance and communication windows. Employees should feel at ease and safe expressing what is aiding or hindering productivity.

This, as well as the next point, should be discussed early on in your virtual onboarding process:

2. Create a playbook for communication and collaboration

During onboarding, make sure your communication policies and collaboration tools are properly defined and communicated. These rules can be reviewed and referred to by employees, so they know what to do and what is expected of them.

Your playbook should include information on:

  • When to employ which communication channels.
  • Will employees be required to attend live video check-ins?
  • Is it common for your team to share resources via Slack or email?

To keep conversations consolidated, organized, and accessible, get everyone to use the same channels.

Tools for project management

Trello, Basecamp, and Asana are project management tools that keep track of what everyone is working on as it progresses through the pipeline. Any team looking to boost remote cooperation while working across time zones should invest in one.

Tasks can be assigned, materials (such as spreadsheets, mockups, and slides) can be added, and deadlines can be defined. Team members will be aware of their responsibilities, effortlessly pick up duties, and leave comments/updates for their teammates to address throughout their shifts.

Everyone will have everything they need to get up and running as soon as they sign in for the day, regardless of what time it is.

3. Improve your asynchronous communication

Asynchronous communication should be the norm for remote teams working across time zones, especially those with personnel in multiple time zones.

Teams exchange messages with one other without expecting a response right away. Employees can give each response the time and attention it deserves when they take a break to check their messages. Employees may work independently, uninterrupted, and more productively as a result of this.

To excel at asynchronous communication, teams working across time zones must:

  • Always plan ahead of time. Before sending communications, making requests, or setting deadlines, think about your team's working hours and the time variances. If they don't get the message or don't start working on it until the next day, you may need to give off duties a day or two early.
  • Communicate deadlines clearly and concisely. To avoid any misunderstanding, it's a good idea to indicate the deadline in your and your teammate's time zones.
  • Emphasize the importance of well-written communication. People who communicate asynchronously must write clear, complete, and concise messages. They should have everything they require to begin a task when working across time zones or request as soon as possible.

Why is this so important?

Let's imagine you sent a message that was vague or confusing because you rushed it out. It could take three to sixteen hours for the recipient to read it during their working hours. They'll have to message you for clarification, and you'll have to wait until you get back to work to respond.

By the time they read your second message and take action, an entire day (or more!) could have passed without them doing anything. This isn't how high-performing remote teams working across time zones collaborate.

So, before you send a message, consider the following:

  • Is everything in my recipient's hand that they'll need to finish the following step?
  • Is there anything I can clarify?
  • Is there anything I can connect to help me work more efficiently (for example, spreadsheets, case studies, meeting memos, and so on)?
  • Do the materials I'm sharing have access to my recipient?

Giving everyone what they need improves their ability to execute tasks alone and without seeking assistance.

Do you want to improve your message writing skills when your team is working across time zones? Next, use these suggestions to help your team communicate more effectively while working remotely.

Consider following the lead of the Arc development team[*] and providing a consistent set of emoji reactions. "I'm done working on that," "I agree with your proposal," and "Let me think about it and come back to you" are all emoticons they've designated.

Messages are clear and easy to grasp at a glance with just one simple emoji. These are also useful when your teammates don't all speak the same language.

4. Allow for synchronized communication

Synchronous communication, or real-time communication between teams, is still necessary for team development, bonding, brainstorming, and celebrating project achievements.

So, while asynchronous methods should be used for 75% of your communication, leave 25% for synchronous methods like:

  • Zoom meetings and real-time video chats
  • In Slack, you can have watercooler talks.
  • Kudos and shout outs
  • Check-ins every week

These moments will strengthen your team's bond, making working across time zones more productive. They also reinforce the culture of your organization.

It's nearly hard to arrange everyone to meet at the same time without inconveniencing someone if you don't have team members working in overlapping time zones. One person will have to regularly get up too early or stay online too late.

Therefore, it's reasonable to switch meeting schedules every month or quarter. This ensures that no single team is forced to make constant sacrifices to stay linked. It may also cause everyone to plan a meeting across time zones when they're the ones working unusual hours.

Meeting planning is made easier with tools like World Time Buddy and Time and Date. Simply enter your team's current locations, and these calculators will calculate the best times to meet (and even show local holidays being observed).

5. Follow this meeting protocol when working across time zones

Before you plan another team meeting in different time zones, attempt to follow this routine to avoid the very real issue of Zoom fatigue:

  1. Consider whether this truly needs to be a meeting. Real-time collaboration isn't always as efficient as we'd like it to be. So, before you ask others to alter their schedules, make sure the topic you're talking about truly requires everyone's presence.

  2. Can a video recording help you express information more effectively? You can capture video messages of yourself, your screen, or both with tools like Loom and PingPong.

Without holding real-time meetings, you may send fast messages, explain new methods, and clarify complex topics with your team working across time zones. Everyone can look through these at their leisure, take notes, and return to your instructions or ask questions afterward.

  1. Prepare a meeting agenda and distribute it to all team members. This keeps meetings on track by giving everyone an idea of what's on the agenda (and allowing them to brainstorm suggestions or queries before the meeting).

Furthermore, some of the best practices for holding productive virtual team meetings include having a shared goal and describing what you expect to accomplish.

  1. Record or take notes to share with others who couldn't attend during the meeting. This keeps everyone informed without requiring them to compromise their work-life balance. Consider establishing a buddy system in this situation. Updates, information, feedback, meeting notes, and other material will be shared with a chosen point of contact working across time zones via a designated point of contact in one time zone.

That's it about the tools and practices for collaborating across different time zones. Let's summarize now.

Conclusion

Remote work has gained momentum with the outbreak of Covid-19. The best practices for working across time zones are determining everyone's preferred work hours and time zone, creating a playbook for communication and collaboration, improving your asynchronous communication, allowing for synchronized communication, and following a meeting protocol in four steps.

The main project management tools include Trello, Basecamp, and Asana, which keep track of what everyone is working on as it progresses through the pipeline. You can use the tools and practices that are the best fit for your organization and make working across time zones a pleasurable experience for everybody.

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